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Indonesia's "honesty cafes"

Want a hit of ethics in your coffee? Head to East Kalimantan.

JAKARTA — Indonesia is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Transparency International ranks it 126 out of 180 nations — worse than Nigeria, but better than Myanmar. And so a handful of progressive leaders are trying anything they can to stem the overwhelming problem. In fact, the strategies to end graft are these days almost as imaginative as the graft itself.

In East Kalimantan, a province full of natural resources that has been a gold mine for corrupt government officials and businessmen, the local governor recently announced he would open almost 1,500 cafes without cashiers throughout the province. Patrons would be expected to take what they want and leave the appropriate amount of cash in return.

The so-called “honesty cafes” are an attempt to instill ethics into the youth who have been raised in an atmosphere where corruption is everywhere. Almost all Indonesians have paid bribes to government officials and police at some point in their lives and many of them pay bribes on a regular basis. Something as simple as an identification card requires a few extra dollars for the issuing official.

“There are many people with very little discipline,” said Zairin, a spokesperson for the East Kalimantan governor. “They throw garbage everywhere, smoke in public places and are prone to corruption. This program is aimed at the root of the problem, the culture.”

The hope is that patrons of the cafes will feel compelled to leave the correct amount of money, and if they don’t, they will face the condemnation of their peers. The cafes will first be introduced into schools throughout the province, and then offices and possibly even on the street.

“It is so important that Indonesia’s younger generation grow up with a better understanding of what is right and what is wrong so they are more disciplined and less likely to take part in corrupt activities," Zairin said. "This anti-corruption campaign targets the youth so that Indonesia can have a better future.”